Jason Natzke explains how U2 unlocked his artist’s soul.
I’ll be the first to admit it: I am an emotional guy; I always have been. Whether I was the annoying kid throwing a tantrum at the grocery store because I dropped my free cookie on the floor (I’m sorry, Mom!) or that guy who became a little too vocal during a football game, I’ve always been well-traveled on the emotional spectrum. When I feel emotions, light or dark, I really feel them. “Intensity” was written on my name tag long before I walked through the door.
Embracing my penchant for emotional peaks and valleys hasn’t always been easy, especially when I attempt to explain them to a first-time witness. For years I struggled with this part of me, wondering why I had so much energy bouncing around my insides. I tried suppressing my emotions, creating a barrier around my heart and making a conscious effort to shrink my ceiling and raise my floor. You can probably guess where that got me. I quickly learned that a teapot could only simmer for so long before the whistle turns into a siren and ignorance of this concept can lead to disaster. Yet, as in most good stories, a chance encounter transformed the structure of the narrative.
I remember sitting on the floor of my living room, glued to the television as I watched a man (who was wearing sunglasses for no apparent reason) passionately sing about “streets not having names.” Three other musicians played behind him and I really didn’t understand what they were trying to say. Although, the sound coming from them was so powerful, the band was performing with such conviction that I had to listen. I saw four men expressing emotion with such intensity and I immediately began to relate. In that moment, I was given permission to feel because I saw four others feeling with me.
My brother casually entered the room and seemed to notice my astonishment. He said they were an “old” rock group who sang that Beautiful Day song but he couldn’t remember their name. After waiting seemingly forever for our dial-up modem to work, I had my answer: the band was called U2.
As they say, the rest is history. I spent my days that summer renting back-catalogue U2 albums from the public library until I could save my allowance to buy personal copies. Each discovery of a new song brought newfound exhilaration, as if I figured out how to use a muscle I never knew I had. The full gamut of my emotions now had a soundtrack, a collection of songs that I could identify with. U2’s music became my outlet, my punching bag or my trampoline, a resource for whatever I needed to feel. U2 became my band and the more I grew, the more songs I found to grow with.
Over ten years have passed and my U2 experience has graduated from racking up past-due fees for holding onto The Joshua Tree to seeing them in concert several times. Recently, I was lucky enough to cross off a bucket-list item of attending multiple U2 concerts in multiple cities … four shows in three weeks on the band’s current Innocence + Experience tour. Each show was more exuberant than the last, bringing both an unspoiled sense of discovery and the familiar warmth of home. However, true healing was found in expelling any feeling that filled my heart: I howled in fury during Sunday Bloody Sunday; I surrendered to joy throughout Where The Streets Have No Name and I wiped tears away during One. I revived my innate ability to tear down barriers through the power of emotion.
We are human beings that are destined to experience emotion, whether they are rooted in grief or love, joy or sorrow and no use can be found in refusing to accept this about ourselves. While this acceptance is far easier said than done, the importance shifts to finding a means to express these highs and lows. We all need an outer way to express our inner atmosphere, a method of reaching catharsis and emotional liberation.
I’ve found grace inside a sound. U2’s songs transport me to a place where I can be myself … my swinging pendulum of emotion and all. I have unearthed transcendence through music, transcendence of the boundaries I create around my heart and the walls of judgment I raise that inhibit me from conveying the emotions that are the foundation of my being.
I am still discovering the power of certain songs and more importantly, I am constantly finding new means of discharging my emotions in a favorable way that help me embrace my own intensity. The music of U2 is not solely responsible for this transformation, but there are songs that have facilitated this self-reflection, adjusting my compass towards a safe and sacred space of unrestrained emotional release. The melodies simply pointed me in the right direction. While the music continues to give back, my heart is opening to give even more to the world around me … it’s a beautiful thing and it began with an act of listening.
What sort of liberation will you find in the act of expression?